SEATTLE — After Thursday’s slip in Seattle, Washington State is pining for the Palouse.
The Cougars’ season opened with a 41-38 loss to Rutgers in the final “home” game for WSU in Seattle.
The 30,927 in a half-full CenturyLink Field saw a vintage performance from one of Washington State’s most productive quarterbacks. Connor Halliday’s third career 500-yard passing game had WSU in position to win.
They also nearly saw a classic Cougar collapse.
Leading 38-34 with 7:13 to play, WSU’s defense forced Rutgers to punt from its own 16-yard line. But River Cracraft fumbled the punt, and Rutgers recovered at the 50 yard line.
Eight plays later, Paul James scored his third touchdown of the game, a 3-yard rush, to put Rutgers ahead 41-38 with 3:24 to play. Washington State’s following drive ended when Johnathan Akin pried the ball from the hands of Cracraft, who nearly caught a pass on fourth-and-13 from the WSU 38-yard line.
Thursday was the last of 12 annual Seattle home games for WSU.
The new Pac-12 television contract provides money to offset the financial boost WSU received by playing in Seattle. Athletic director Bill Moos wants to bring all Cougars games back to Pullman, saying the Seattle game has “run its course.”
Halliday completed 40 of 56 passes for 532 yards and four touchdowns.
Now with 7,963 yards, Halliday is third on WSU’s all-time passing list behind Alex Brink (10,913) and Jason Gesser (8,830).
Trailing 24-17, WSU scored on back-to-back drives to start the second half.
The drives were carbon copies, but neither had any smudges for Halliday.
He first led the Cougs 80 yards, completing six of seven passes before finding River Cracraft for a 7-yard touchdown.
After Rutgers answered with a field goal, Halliday completed seven of his next eight passes. The drive covered 70 yards, finishing with a 14-yard TD dart on third down to Isiah Myers, putting WSU ahead 31-24.
Rutgers responded by scoring 10 straight points, regaining the lead with 10:50 left on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Gary Nova to John Tsimis.
While Washington State wasn’t at home in Seattle, Rutgers showed it is comfortable playing in the style of its new home, the Big Ten.
Rutgers used a between-the-tackles rushing attack to gain 215 yards on ground. James led the way with 173 yards on 29 carries.
Rutgers scored on the first play from scrimmage. Leonte Carroo got behind the WSU corner Daquawn Brown to catch a 78-yard touchdown pass.